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50 years of successes and challenges in UN environmental diplomacy

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2022 marks the 50th anniversary of United Nations environmental diplomacy. It was in 1972 that the organization began to bring together hundreds of countries and seek solutions to the problems that endanger our planet.

Fifty years ago, acid rain destroyed trees. Birds were dying of pesticide poisoning (DDT) and countries were facing oil spills and contamination from nuclear weapons testing.

This situation led the UN, at the request of Sweden, to bring together representatives of countries from all over the world and find solutions, so that in June 1972 the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment took place. is held in Stockholm.

“Supuso el primer esfuerzo global para tratar el medio ambiente como una cuestión de política mundial y definir los basics para su gestión”, explained to Metro Mihaela Papa, professor of sustainable development and global governance of The Fletcher School of the Universidad de Tufts, in the USA.

The Stockholm Conference led to the creation of the United Nations Environment Program to monitor the state of the environment and coordinate responses to major problems.

It also raised questions that continue to challenge international negotiations today, such as who is responsible for repairing environmental damage and how much poorer countries can expect to make.

This conference brought together representatives from 113 countries, as well as UN agencies, and created a tradition of including non-state actors, such as environmental groups. It also produced a declaration that included principles to guide future management of the global environment.

Although this diplomacy has made significant progress in five decades, the truth is that it is currently facing what is perhaps its greatest challenge: global warming. And despite its potential to be a game-changer in the fight against climate change, experts say it has not been effective enough in this task, so far.

“However, current climate diplomacy is not happening at the scale and pace we need to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations,” Papa concluded.

“(Through environmental diplomacy) Environmental protection is now seen as a universal and collective effort.”

Mihaela Papa, Professor of Sustainable Development and Global Governance at Fletcher School of Tufts University, USA.


The nations participated in the first United Nations environmental diplomacy meeting in 1972.

Mihaela Papa, professor of sustainable development and global governance at the Fletcher School of Tufts University (USA), explains:

-Environmental protection is now seen as a universal and collective effort.

-All States have adopted sustainable development, which considers economic, environmental and equity objectives as interdependent, and takes into account future generations.

-The United Nations Environment Program is the global authority on the environment, helping to monitor the state of the environment and serving as a platform for the development of environmental treaties.

-We have seen the expansion of national environmental agencies and the growth of global environmental law.

– United Nations environmental diplomacy has brought together multiple stakeholders to address environmental threats and has kept environmental protection high on the global agenda.

-The current environmental challenges are immense, but progress is possible: the fight against the destruction of the ozone layer is an example.

Mihaela Papa, professor of sustainability and global governance at the Fletcher School at Tufts University

Q: How can environmental diplomacy help fight global warming?

– Climate change is a universal problem: all States contribute to the problem, and we need scientific data and action from all States to tackle it. The UN is a platform to coordinate the actions of States and advance the climate agenda using the latest scientific data. However, current climate diplomacy is not happening at the scale and pace we need to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations. If we want to see progress, climate diplomacy needs to be more effective in making big polluters pay and developing new models for engaging non-state actors, especially corporations.

Q: What are the main challenges of UN environmental diplomacy?

– The main challenge is that we are much better at developing new goals and processes than at applying them. Undoubtedly, international negotiations are difficult and lead to minimal agreements. There is no international government to enforce these agreements, and committed funding is often delayed or does not arrive at all. Having everyone on board and moving in the right direction is considered an achievement in itself. However, we must refocus on results: diplomatic processes must be redesigned when they do not produce results. It is tragic that we have known about climate change since the late 1980s and ended the Glasgow climate conference in 2021 with a debate on whether to phase out fossil fuels, while fuel subsidies fossils continue to prevail. Moreover, the Sustainable Development Goals remain ambitious, as their targets are unlikely to be achieved.

Q: What can we expect in the next 50 years?

– Environmental awareness is growing and standards are changing. Irresponsible consumption, waste and the ensuing damage to the environment will have to be combated more directly. The defense of the rights of nature and animals is increasingly important. Humans are also more active in outer space, which is an opportunity to think about protecting space ecosystems and whether there is life beyond Earth.

Source metroecuador.com

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